The Story of Rosalie Trombley

Rosalie Trombley was the influential music director of CKLW from 1968 to 1984.

Rosalie Trombley was the influential music director of CKLW from 1968 to 1984.

Rosalie Trombley’s life is a quintessentially Canadian story.

Why? Because her modesty and desire for privacy have largely kept her story out of the limelight. Some people know about her because it’s tough to keep a story like hers in a can forever. It’s disappointing how some people get fame for doing little or nothing yet someone like Rosalie Trombley, who deserves fame, accolades, and respect, remain largely unknown.

She was a single mom of three who started working at CKLW in Windsor, Ont. Nicknamed The Girl With the Golden Ear, she demonstrated an ability to pick songs that would become hits. She started using that talent at CKLW and soon, the fourth-most listened to station in North America (yes, it trailed only radio stations in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago) became a trend-setter.

Record company executives and musicians would visit her office on Thursdays and try to convince her to play their record. If she liked it, and played it, it became a hit. She was bold, bucked conventional wisdom, worked hard researching what her listeners wanted, and never compromised her principles.

In the male-dominated world of commercial radio, Rosalie Trombley of Leamington, Ont., became one of the most influential people on the North American music scene during her tenure as CKLW’s music director from 1968 to 1984.

With a 50,000 watt transmission tower, CKLW reached into as many as 30 states in the U.S. and wielded more influence than the CBC could ever dream of. Her unique view of music, and a willingness to play all kinds of music — including R&B and soul — recognized that music has a unifying force on people and provides people with something to share. Not only did CKLW do this without a dime of taxpayers’ money, it faced the constant badgering and red tape from the CRTC, which failed to recognize what CKLW had accomplished and could only think of rules and regulations for it to follow.

Rosalie Trombley’s story is an inspiration for women, for people who start from humble beginnings, and for people who dare to do things differently. Tony Orlando once said there should be a movie about her life. The first draft of the script has been written and it will be read tonight.

A maestro in our midst

An old acquaintance of mine told me a funny story once about how she “discovered” Harry Connick, Jr.

She was in a bar in Connick’s hometown of New Orleans and listening to him perform. She was mightily impressed and told him so after his song was over – something she could do in the intimate setting of the bar they were in.

“Hey, you’re pretty good,” she told him, not realizing who he was. She had heard of Connick, but didn’t recognize the man who had already won a Grammy Award for best jazz male vocal performance thanks to his work on the When Harry Met Sally soundtrack.

Connick was gracious and said “thank you” but someone – perhaps a friendly bartender – pointed out to her who he was. She was sheepish, but not so much that she didn’t delight in telling the story when she returned to Nova Scotia.

Sometimes, you see somebody perform and you feel like your discovery is the world’s discovery.

So it was with me and the first time I watched Dinuk Wijeratne conduct the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra.

While I didn’t approach Wijeratne or the orchestra to say “Hey, you’re pretty good,” I did decide to write about them for Halifax Magazine; that article will appear in the magazine’s April issue.

The more I researched Wijeratne’s background, the more I realized what a virtuoso he is. It was his work as a conductor that prompted me to write about him, but his talents are more diverse than that.

We are fortunate to have him plying his craft here in Nova Scotia. If you haven’t watched him play the piano, conduct, or seen one of his compositions brought to life off the page, then you must change that.

To get a sense of Wijeratne and what he and the NSYO can do, watch this video.

Now, go “discover” him like I did. The NSYO and Symphony Nova Scotia will be performing a joint concert at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on Feb. 17.